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Friday, June the Onest


June 1, 2007 — 7:31 pm
Comments: 23

Eighteen hundred and froze to death


I’ve heard that expression all my life without realizing it was a real year. 1816. Also known as “the Year Without a Summer” and “the Poverty Year.”

“February, according to old records, was rather warm and spring-like, but cold and storms held away in March. Vegetation had gotten well underway in April when the real cold weather set in. Snow and sleet fell on 17 different days in May.

In June there was either frost or snow every day but three. July was cold and frosty. In August there was an ice storm, the formation being nearly an inch thick, killing every green thing in the United States. In the spring of 1817, corn kept over from 1815, sold from $5 to $10 a bushel for seed only.”

That was in New England. It wasn’t relentlessly cold; there were terrible temperature shifts, from normal or above to far below. From nearly 100 degrees to nearly freezing in hours.

In hindsight, climatologists think it was down to three things. Volcanic activity, especially one particular eruption in Indonesia in 1815. The “Dalton Minimum” — a time of low sunspot activity that lasted from 1795 to 1823. And the peculiar dance the sun does around the center of the solar system, thanks mostly to the gravitational pull of Jupiter and Saturn.

It hit worst in the US Northeast, Northern Europe and China. There was widespread famine. Europe, still smarting from the Napoleonic wars, had food riots. Americans hitched their wagons and moved West.

It snowed brown in Hungary. It snowed red in Italy. It rained so much, Mary Shelley couldn’t go out to play, so she stayed in and wrote Frankenstein. Joseph Smith had crop failures, moved to New York and turned religious, leading inevitably to the Book of Mormon. There were vivid sunsets, leading inevitably to Turner.

Oh, it was a terrible thing.

I ran across an article on this while looking up nervous goats for McGoo. So don’t be hating on a weasel. Be hating on McGoo. I also nicked some stuff from Wikipedia and this PowerPoint presentation on the sun.

— 4:57 am
Comments: 33